1906 in retrospect: A case of abortive success

Like any uneasy compromise in which both parties give way on important demands and who accept, rather than embrace, the result, the Athens Games of 1906 emerged as a pivotal additive to the Olympic movement without ever really being a part of it. Athens, which had given birth to the Olympics in 1896, then gave renewed hope for the project in 1906; but the twice-born was still regarded, subsequently, as something of a bastard child as the IOC, which reluctantly went along with the off-year return to Athens, continued to keep them at arm’s length. Even so, according to the Hellenic Olympic Committee, the official IOC handbook continued to list the results until 1972. The earlier idea of holding regular, off-year Interim Games in Athens was also aborted. Political instability derailed all possibility for 1910. A Greek military rebellion, a fallen government, a major expansion of national territory (notably in Crete and Epirus) and gathering war clouds in the Balkans all marked Greek public life in 1909-10, and made it rather difficult to justify more fun and Games in the Greek capital. War gets in the way By the spring of 1914, war in Europe was imminent, so any interim Games that year were again out; even the «regular» Games of 1916, scheduled for Berlin, were canceled. The nations of the modern world had managed, in just two decades, to bring about something that 1,000 years of war, slavery and imperialism never managed to do in ancient times: cancel an Olympics. Such is progress. The 1896 Athens Games are famous for being held at all, but their 1906 follow-up Games injected new energy into a prematurely old and tired, 10-year-old Olympic body like a welcome case of organizational blood-doping. Some historians even hold that without them the modern version of the Games could well have collapsed altogether, an unworkable dream of one overimaginative French aristocrat. It is purely speculative whether they «saved» them. Even so, the London and especially Stockholm Games that followed in 1908 and 1912 were significantly grander in scale and better planned overall, enabling the Olympics to survive a world war. If nothing else, the Athens example of 1906 set the standard at a much higher level for future Games hosts. They are largely forgotten not because they failed but because they succeeded – a success measurable only by what came afterward.

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